Radar Love, but No Golden Earring

I am usually not the one who would publicly admit to breaking the law or even think of doing such a thing. There are times however, where I think certain laws should be bent or eased up upon, especially if it is for the greater good of society or my sanity behind the wheel. Speed limits are a great example of this. If you consider logic for a brief moment, people moving at a faster pace can get things accomplished in a shorter amount of time. Now let’s take a step further- People driving faster, to arrive at their destination in a shorter amount of time, means that (in theory) less time would be spent driving on a roadway. This in turn (again, in theory) would make more room on the road for additional vehicles, which would mean that traffic would be greatly reduced (along with congestion) since people would be moving along at a more rapid pace and arriving at their destinations faster, hence spending less time driving. Makes sense, right? Well, while attempting to test my theory (for scientific purposes only), I was greeted by a local Sheriff who did not share my love for science and debunked my theory with a $120 fine.

This was a wake-up call for me and prompted my mind to drift back to a childhood memory of a beeping, glowing, black box that rested atop my dad’s dashboard… A radar detector (AKA The Fuzz Buster). Fond childhood road trip memories usually involved that piece of modern engineering (or so a child thought) that would emit an skin curling beep whenever a radar was present. At that time, it was an even simpler device than today’s modern detectors. You either had a beep and/or a series of lights to represent signal strength and… well, that was it. Also, since there were a limited amount of radar bands in use at that time (and lasers were only used in Star Wars), it would simply beep whenever you would pass a police station, a mall, a grocery store or even a guy wearing a very cool digital watch. They were more annoying then anything else and often faded into the sea of background noise, until the unmistakable wail of a police siren and strobes illuminating your rear view mirror, jolted you back to reality. By then, it was too late.

Jump ahead to 2013 and the radar detector becomes something a bit more advanced. With models toting GPS tracking, directional awareness of signals (including laser), Bluetooth integration, in addition to real-time reporting of speed traps, the beeping black box had now entered a new era. What was once a step above a novelty item, the modern detector has now become a tool for the automotive enthusiast or “aspiring scientist” like myself. Despite being a bit of a gadget guy, I must admit that I have lost some touch in the radar detector realm and was forced to reeducate myself on the device as a whole. During my research, I quickly learned just how sophisticated speed enforcement has become in order to counteract the evolution of these devices and how radar detector manufacturers must keep engineering different solutions in order to stay above the law. Needless to say, this evolution comes at a cost to the consumer. At what price point is the cost justifiable? For me, that price point was $200.

Like trying to find a small computer, a reliable smartphone or just any electronic device that is considered “good” for under $200 is tough these days and radar detectors are no exception. If you toss out the bells and whistles mentioned above, you end up with a device that simply needs to be able to detect a friggin’ radar. To be honest, that was all I really needed. As my quest for the best began, I soon realized that almost every detector (in spite of price point) offers the ability to detect: X, K, Ka bands of radar, LIDAR (AKA laser), warn of road hazards and usually offers some level of protection from radar detector detectors. So if all you need is just these “basic features,” then finding a solid detector for under $200 shouldn’t be that difficult in theory, but in practice, it was a different story.

After searching several websites, the guys at radartest.com and guysoflidar.com put together some great tests and provided me with a wealth of information to make an informed decision. So with knowledge in head, I decided that the Beltronics Pro 100 would be the perfect companion for my next road trip. The reputation of Beltronics and a $169 price tag at Sears Auto Center, put the Pro 100 on my windshield, but that’s not the whole story. Despite the blowing of a fuse upon first plug in, it appeared to easily pick up an X band signal moments upon start up. Since I was in a large shopping center, this shouldn’t have been a difficult task. A few miles later, I was on the open road and running hard with the Pro 100 watching my tail. Entrusting in the technicians at Beltronics, I decided to spool up the turbo and take the lead of a “Wolf Pack” and put my “scientific theory” to the test.

While in the midst of conducting my time saving experiment (and leading the way for three other “lab assistants”) I crested a hill and was met by a state trooper lying in wait along the left shoulder. Luckily, my brakes worked better than the Pro 100, which didn’t even emit a single blip. Phew! So after a few miles of following a regimen of Government prescribed speed limits, I decided to chalk up the lack of warning as a fluke and try and entrust the Pro 100, yet again. As I crossed state lines and attempted to prove my “scientific theory” correct, history repeated itself- not once, but twice! Two troopers, clearly running radar (with guns in hand) and not a single sound from the Pro 100. In fact, I haven’t heard a single tone from the device, since the initial X band (usually used by automated doors and security systems) alert as I pulled away from Sears, over 125 miles earlier.

Needless to say, this device was clearly defective and was promptly returned to the Sears closest to my destination. So, back to the drawing board I went and the search was on. This time, I stumbled upon something I clearly overlooked earlier. The good people who make the Beltronics devices, also make a higher-level detector that goes by the name Escort. Yes, THE Escort. Proud makers of the Passport and Solo series that helped push the radar detector into the future and assist drivers to push their engines towards redline. Apparently, the popular and award winning original Passport 8500 series are now available as factory refurbished (with limited warranty) for only $149. This is a huge savings from the $300+ retail price they carried when new and needless to say, this was a “risk” worth taking.

After patiently waiting two days (expedited shipping was free, by the way), my 8500 looked as clean as it did when it first left the factory when it was considered a “new” unit, but looks can’t be everything. So, after spending the past three days testing the unit around the city, I can honestly say that this “older” unit appears to be working quite well and is earning my trust. Further testing shall prove the validity of my claim, but so far, so good. What did we learn here? That the newest and greatest isn’t always the best, but you truly do get what you pay for. So as I continue to test my “science experiment,” I will be also testing the quality of the 8500 and see how it’s initially good design has stood the test of time.

– Johnny “Bones” Basile

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